Leadership: Militant Populists with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)

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May 18, 2006: Although the U.S. and many of its friends have come to view the advent of Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela and Evo Morales as President of Bolivia, as something of a disaster, a lot of cultural and policy analysts have concluded that ignoring them is likely to be the best policy. Despite their often revolutionary rhetoric, neither has an attention-span sufficient to carry through any kind of serious program, much preferring to mug for the crowd, promising pie-in-the-sky but not investing much effort in delivering the goods. To be sure some of their henchmen are more focused, but their status in the hierarchy and their ability to implement programs is very heavily dependent on keeping the bossman entertained. This conclusion seems to have been reached by several governments as well. Apparently China, and perhaps Russia, have decided that going into business with either is not worth the trouble, though if they can get cash up front they're still willing to deal.

Both Chavez and Morales rose to power by tapping into deeply felt resentments in their respective countries. These grievances include widespread poverty, fear of globalization, serious class distinctions and racial discrimination, and, of course, anti-Americanism, which is an easy sell everywhere in Latin America. The "message" of both men was "elect me and everything will get better real quick." But the message has been wearing thin. After some half-dozen years in power in Venezuela, Chavez has yet to deliver any noticeable improvements in living standards, and appears to be losing sympathy among many of country's poorest people. Morales, in power only a few months, has seen his support eroding even more quickly.

Meanwhile, any sympathy they may have had among other Latin American leaders has been eroding to the point that even leftist governments, such as in Argentina and Brazil, have become rather chilly. Castro aside, Chavez and Morales seem to have not notably supportive "friends" in the region. For the U.S., the best course of action is to do nothing and let the two regimes self-destruct. Any efforts to try to pressure either man, or, even worse, to force him out of power, would certainly have precisely the opposite effect.

 


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